Eni Aluko: ‘The minute you are brave enough to talk about race you are in a difficult situation’
In a revealing interview, the striker opens up on her problems with the Football Association after telling the organisation about what she felt was ‘discrimination, victimisation and bullying’ in the England camp
Race, for some reason, is this taboo subject that everyone avoids talking about. The minute you are brave enough to talk about race, you are in a difficult situation. That in itself is discrimination: the mere fact I am in this position. I probably can’t play for England again. I’ve lost my England career despite being the leading scorer in the league last season.
I believe all these things are happening because it’s a conversation about race and this is a big problem in the world right now. Herman Ouseley [the chairman of Kick It Out] said it. On the pitch there are clear punishments when it comes to issues involving race. Behind closed doors we don’t know the FA processes.
We do know The Player has not been picked since this incident. Lianne Sanderson hasn’t been picked since she complained about why her 50th cap was forgotten on the same trip that the 100th cap of a white player was remembered. Lianne asked: ‘Why me?’ The 50th cap is a customary celebration. It’s standard. There is a presentation in front of the team and you have a special shirt with ‘50th cap’ written on it. It’s a big deal. She asked why she had been forgotten and she hasn’t been picked since.
Anita Asante disappeared without trace despite playing for one of the best teams in Europe. Danielle Carter scored two hat-tricks for England and doesn’t get picked any more – why? There are lots of national teams that are very white, not just England, and I’d hate to say we should be picked because we’re black or mixed race. But are we all bad characters? Are we all terrible players? That’s the question I think people need to be asking because a pattern is emerging here, as clear as day, and my belief is that it’s a culture.
I was under no illusion people didn’t like me and that FA staff and players were almost encouraged not to like me. A perception was created around me that ‘she’s a troublemaker, she’s a know-it-all’ or ‘a pain in the arse’, as was said by Mark Sampson after I’d scored a hat-trick in one game. There are other players who have scored hat-tricks for England and they weren’t addressed as a pain in the arse. So why was I? That, I believe, is the definition of bullying – insults, in derogatory terms, directed at one individual with the intention to undermine them in a group of people. Unfortunately that is one of many examples.
For months one member of staff used to talk to me in a fake Caribbean accent. He thought it was OK to do that, he thought it was funny. I believe he was empowered to do that because of the culture. We pleaded it [in submissions to the FA] but they chose to ignore it.
Yes, in a football environment industrial language is used. I’ve been at Chelsea five years and been the butt of many jokes. And I give it back sometimes. That is the beauty of team spirit in a healthy dressing room. I’m not a sensitive, precious person. I’ve been in the [England] team for 11 years, I’ve been through ups and downs. I’ve played for boys’ teams. I’ve played for Chelsea, at the top level, and I’ve been dropped by Chelsea before but I can recognise something toxic when I see it. This is a culture that has systematically dismissed certain players. There is lots of talk about being the most together team in the world – I’ve truly never felt so isolated as I was in that team between 2014 and 2016.